Thursday, March 01, 2007

Canadian Cafe or My Love Affair with Poutine - CLOSED

I've in love with Poutine. Sounds almost pornographic, huh? But damn, I really am in love, in lust, in everything that is downright delectable about the food known as Poutine.

So you may be asking, what has me so hot and bothered? Simply, poutine is a French-Canadian food that consists of brown gravy poured over French fries and white cheddar cheese curds. No processed cheese or cheese sauce here!

Your senses already come alive as soon you see the waitress walking your way with your Poutine basket. Listen in anticipation to the basket as it softly lands on the tabletop before you. Feast your eyes on the small curl-edged chunks of the cheese curd as it starts to melt onto the surface of the golden French Fries. As the cheese melts more, feel the French Fry stretch its ooey-gooey cheesy way as you pull it from the basket to your mouth.

Taste the crispness of the fry that's partially cloaked with melted cheese that's still hanging off the fry's edge as you're biting into it as well as the subtle, rich "meaty" flavor of the brown gravy that coats both fry and cheese together. Finally, hear yourself give a sigh of utter joy, not only because you just devoured something tasty, but also because you get to do it over and over again until you're completely satisfied.

Wow. I think I need a cigarette and I don't even smoke!

I wish that the "foreplay" I experienced with the Poutine was a sign of even more exciting things to come from my meal, but alas that wasn't to be. Perhaps, anything one eats after Poutine would just be too anticlimactic anyway to enjoy, but I did try.

Unfortunately, the burger in my Canadian Bacon Cheeseburger was overcooked, dry and overall, a real buzz kill. The pastry of my Butter Tart was buttery, but not very flaky. At least the golden raisin filling was fairly tasty.

It's too bad that the lunch that started off with a BANG! ended with a whimper. Trying out other items at a later visit may get me better results, but for now, my relationship with the Poutine is the start of a great love affair. Perhaps, it can be for you as well?

To see pics, go to:

Canadian Cafe
125 East Colorado Blvd
Monrovia, CA 91016
(626) 303-2303

Dinner at Ruen Pair

It's always strange to be in a position where you're not going to give a restaurant the type of acclaim that it has gotten from other reviewers, even more so (and which happens on a regular basis), to give any type of review really based on just one visit. After all, visiting a restaurant more than once allows you the chance to explore the menu and to sift through the ordinary to hopefully find the spectacular.

True, I could have asked for recommendations for the best dishes to order, but for me, a restaurant's true success is not based on just a few dishes that will blow your socks off. Instead, it should be measured by a meal where the majority of the dishes you have ordered will put that happy smile on your face afterwards and make you want to come back the very next day, just because the food was THAT GOOD!

So now we come to my review of Ruen Pair, which has gotten quite a few raves, but for me, ranged from an okay to a good, if not exceptional eating experience. Our meal that evening consisted of 10 different dishes. I should note that I was with a group of other diners, so not all the choices may have been ones I would have made, but you have to take the hand you're dealt with and run with it.

We started off with a spicy soup which had shrimp, mushrooms, lemon grass, lime juice and fresh chili. The soup was wonderful. It had really good heat that balanced well with the sweetness of the shrimp and sour tartness of the lemon grass and lime juice.

From there we went to the Papaya Salad, which I did hear a lot of good things about and it didn't disappoint. The combination of flavors and textures between the fresh papaya, the crunchy green beans, the tartness of the lime juice and just everything combined made for a great eating experience.

Then came the Stir-Fried Morning Glory, which I found slightly bitter and not so unappealing. Soon followed two chicken dishes. One chicken dish had a really great sauce that was on the side which I liked a lot. The other chicken dish, though visually appealing, wasn't very memorable, so I can't speak to it.

Then the clams came which according to the menu was in a mild spicy sauce with mint. I actually thought that putting "mild" and "spicy" together to describe a sauce seemed a little odd. Wouldn't such opposing flavors cancel each other out? I did actually enjoy the clams, although I felt we were a little ripped off since not all the clams actually had meat in them. That didn't sit well with me.

Following the "clamless" clams came two other uninspiring dishes: chinese broccoli with stir-fried pork and a bland chicken dish that was sauteed with vegetables.

The meal finally ended with my favorite dish of the evening and one I might even return to Ruen Pair to have again. That dish is the Black Egg Sauteed with Chili and Basil. Honestly, we had no clue what a black egg was, but we were so curious that we ordered it.

When it arrived at our table, you could barely even see the eggs peeking from the dark green of the fried basil, but once you did, it was almost shocking to the eyes. The inside of the egg were all these different shades of black, gray and even olive green. It actually didn't look that appetizing, especially when compared to all the previous, more colorful dishes.

Once I got over the shock, I took a bite of egg and the fried basil together and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. I liked the crispy texture of the fried basil and the combo of that peppery basil, the heat of the chili and the strong hits of flavor coming from the egg yolk made for a very flavorful eating experience. Now that dish did put a smile on my face.

Generally, first impressions are a big deal to me when I eat at a restaurant. If I don't overwhelmingly like a restaurant the first time I visit, I won't go out of my way to go back anytime soon. But given that Ruen Pair has gotten so many kudos from some of you, I'd be willing to come back again.

So for now, it's neither thumbs up or thumbs down, more like thumbs sideways. While this review of this particular meal I had wasn't that stellar, perhaps a second visit will match up to what the high expectations I had going into this restaurant in the first place.

To see pics, go to:

Ruen Pair Restaurant
5257 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 466-0153

"Dim Sum of the Month Club" at Triumphal Palace

January became the start of my 12 month odyssey checking out a different Dim Sum restaurant a month all over LA County. My trip started last month with Triumphal Palace in Alhambra.

Triumphal Palace is one of the Dim Sum restaurants where dim sum is ordered off a menu versus getting them off runaway carts. This is only my second experience with ordering off a menu and I have to say that I really prefer it that way. With carts, it sometimes feels like you're a mad dog rushing after a speeding cat. You either catch it or you get completely left behind. Now how frustrating is that? At least, with a menu, you'll definitely get what you order eventually. Anyway, on to the food.

My dim sum that morning consisted of 15 various dishes. Of the 15, there are two I would never order again. One was the House Special Dumpling in Supreme Soup Stock. I didn't taste the soup so I can't speak to it, but that Special Dumpling was definitely not that special. It was rubbery. Enough said.

I also didn't fare well with the Shanghai-Style Dumplings. With them being referred to as Shanghai-Style, I was expecting "juicy" dumplings, but I should have lowered my expections because there was really no broth to be found.

Of the 10 left that were savory options, 4 stood out for me. One was the Rice Noodle with Hot and Sweet Sauce. I loved the duality of sauce flavors and I liked the fact that the noodles weren't sticky-starchy and had a nice smooth eating texture to them.

Second was the deep fried chicken wings. The skin was golden and crispy and the chicken had a tanginess-hotness to it that I liked a lot. Third was the deep fried shrimp in seaweed roll. Deep fried seaweed is quite crunchy and when combined with deep fried shrimp, it's quite easy to enjoy every bite of this fun pairing.

Last was the Sticky Rice in Lotus Wrap. The rice was moist and had just the right consistency of being "sticky" without being over done. As for the flavor, I appreciated both the sweetness of the rice as well as the savory aspect of the meat and sauce that was part of the rice.

As for the 3 desserts we shared, one item caught us by surprise. We ordered a "Sweet Sesame Ball" and was expecting the round sesame-coated bread balls with some kind of sweet bean paste and got something not fitting that description.

Instead, what came to us were these three "dough-like" spheres coating with something powdery and inside was more of a runny black bean liquid. Interesting flavor, but not what we were looking for.

Overall, when looking at my Dim Sum experience at Triumphal Palace, I'd say that our Dim Sum choices were for the most part, good solid dishes. While I did have my favorites, there wasn't anything in particular that would make me want to take a special Dim Sum trip back to Triumphal Palace at this point.

Perhaps a second visit with different menu choices will garner me a better culinary experience, but for now, Triumphal Palace wasn't quite the triumph for me just yet.

To see pics, go to:

Triumphal Palace
500 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91899
(626) 308-3222